Published on: September 19, 2017
Written By: Syed Masroor Hasan - Md Hizbullah
Custodians of sprawling waqf estates have been caught selling Muslim charitable assets -- from shrines to cemeteries -- in what possibly could be the biggest land scam in the country unearthed by India Today.
Under Islamic law, a waqf is an inalienable charitable endowment for religious or humanitarian activities.
Waqf properties, or auqaf as they are called, are spread over six lakh acres across the country, with an estimated market value of Rs 1.20 lakh crore, according to the minority affairs ministry. But India Today has exposed an unholy racket involved in fraudulent sale of these massive resources.
The network's undercover reporters found out how a monumental fraud is being carried out right under the nose of state waqf boards, their official guardians.
India Today's special investigation team first visited Qamar Ahmad, a mutawalli or caretaker of a waqf masjid and mazar, identified as property 3068, in Meerut. Uttar Pradesh's Sunni Central Waqf Board appointed Ahmad as custodian of the charitable estate, with stringent conditions laid out on paper.
special investigation team first visited Qamar Ahmad, a mutawalli or caretaker of a waqf masjid and mazar, identified as property 3068, in Meerut.
Documents accessed by India Today showed Ahmad was not authorised to sell, lease out or rebuild the property without official permissions. But the caretaker, a lawyer himself, was found to be treating the huge religious endowment as his personal fiefdom, ready to barter it away for illicit cash.
"Up to 800 square yards, precisely 680 square yards, will be transferred under your title," he told India Today's undercover reporters.
"Can it be done right away?" asked the journalist.
"Yes. If you want, it can be done tomorrow itself," Ahmad insisted. He claimed he was authorized to execute both sale and lease registration of the 3068 auqaf.
Ahmad then took out what later turned out to be a forged permission letter.
"We haven't issued any permission for selling any auqaf over the past 35 years. This permission letter seems to be fake," confirmed Aley Ateeq, assistant secretary of the UP Central Sunni Waqf Board, in Lucknow when he was shown a copy of the paper Ahmad flaunted to dispose of the 3068 property.
But back in Meerut, Qamar Ahmad proposed to sell the 680 square yards of auqaf he supervised at Rs 1.35 crore.
"The deal is set at Rs 1.35 crore. Pay me here at my home and I'll issue you a receipt," he said, demanding the entire payment in hard cash. "I don't want it to be shown in any record. I want it in number two (black)."
But how could a caretaker sell off a donated estate in the first place?
If Qamar Ahmad is to be believed he definitely can -- provided he shared the booty with the board itself in Lucknow.
"The transaction goes like this. After giving them their share, I'd have nothing substantial left in my hand. I'll have to give 25 percent to them," he explained. "Will that go to the waqf board?" the reporter probed.
"Yes. I'll get everything done through their inspector. Everything will be executed properly. I have done it before," Ahmad confessed.
But the scam is not limited to one man or location. At Sitapur, India Today probed Chaudhary Abdul Hamid, caretaker of the waqf property number 4181.
The investigation found he was ready to clinch a deal for almost 4,000 square yards of the religious holding. "I'll organize whatever support is needed from the waqf board," he said.
"We'll get the registration done. Or we'll get a 90-year lease. It will be sold at Rs 3.5 lakh per bigha (1,939 square yards)," Hamid added.
"I'll fill up my belly and that of the waqf board as well. Otherwise, they will raise some objection." Waqf mafia was also found to be robbing the dead of their resting place.
Next, India Today netted the sharks preying on Muslim burial grounds as the investigative team visited a non-descript mazar built over 750 square yards.
This was the waqf property number 3493 at Maliana in Meerut. Its official custodian, Haji Abdul Samad, was out to sell the tomb along the national highway.
Appointed as caretaker of this estate in 2013, Haji Samad offered to lease it out for 99 years.
"I'll have it leased it out to you for a 99-year period. That's all. Then it's all yours -- It's 754 square yards, with the shrine built up on 150 square yards," he said.
He then gave some construction tips to India Today's reporters posing as potential buyers.
"It (the tomb) can be taken under the roof of the first floor (of any future building). It is very much possible. I'll have everything done firmly," he claimed.
"Will the entire place be released from waqf control and a proper registration done?" asked the reporter.
"Whatever I do here will be approved by them (waqf board). It will cost accordingly. Waqf authorities charge higher than the police," Haji Samad confessed.
He demanded Rs 55,000 per square yard, or more than Rs four crore, for the entire waqf estate under his care.
"I am telling you not even a rupee less than 55 (Rs 55,000/square yard) for registration. Not even a single rupee less than 55,000 per square yard. No discount there," he said.
But price tags, India Today's investigation observed, have also been put on cemeteries of ordinary Muslims, let alone revered tombs.
Sadaqat Hussain, caretaker of Greater Noida's Kasna kabarastan, was found to be operating as a rubber stamp for Meerut's land mafia.
"I can sign off on a blank sheet," he said, referring to the orders of his handler in waqf deals.
QUESTION OF REAL CONTROL
When India Today's team met the suspected kingpin, Iqbal Ahmad Ansari, at his home separately, he bragged openly about his "real control" over auqaf in Greater Noida.
"I have all the powers with me. He's (Sadaqat Hussain) is just my rubber stamp. I have all the control," Ansari said. The suspected mafioso then also offered a discount on the Kasna cemetary.
"I'd wave off the price for 5,000 square yards. I'll give you 25,000 square yards but charge for 20,000," he said. He disclosed how bribes would work in the dirty deal.
"Bribes to the waqf board will be delivered in black," said Ansari. "We'll pay them donations separately on our own, one to two lakhs. Just to show."
REACTIONS AFTER THE EXPOSE
Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh government vowed immediate action after India Today aired its report exposing the waqf scandal.
Mohsin Raza, the state's minority-affairs minister, promised an overarching investigation into the suspected scam.
"Those exposed on TV and those working behind the scenes will all be covered in our probe," Raza said as he commended India Today for revealing the devastating truths behind the administration of waqf estates.
"Be prepared for action," he warned both waqf caretakers and senior officials of the state's waqf boards. "No one (involved in the waqf scam) will be spared, within or outside the government," Raza vowed.